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Miracles and Pilgrimages

Miracles

As news of Becket’s murder spread through Canterbury and the country, miracles began to be reported to the monks at Canterbury. One of the earliest to be recorded was the story of a man who had been in the Cathedral at the time of Becket’s murder and had dipped some cloth in the spilled blood. He had taken this to his sick wife and watered down the blood for her to drink, which cured her from her illness. Other stories also described how people with many types of illnesses were cured from drinking water mixed with Becket’s blood, or from visiting his body in the Cathedral. Both Becket’s body and his blood became important relics, believed to possess powers to heal those who touched or, in the case of the blood, consumed it.

These stories were recorded by two monks at Canterbury, Benedict and William. The same stories are also depicted in the spectacular miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral, completed during the rebuilding of the Cathedral between 1174 and 1220. These stained glass windows would have surrounded Becket’s shrine and been visible to pilgrims visiting the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket was officially canonised (made a saint) by Pope Alexander III in 1173, two years after his death.

 

Date: early 13th century
Stained glass from the miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel showing pilgrims taking Becket’s blood and water in ampullae (containers) to the sick.

Pilgrimage

As Becket’s reputation as a miracle-working saint began to grow, people from all over Europe started to flock to Canterbury in the hope that they would also be healed. The miracle stories recorded by Benedict and William, the monks who gauarded the shrine, show that that people from all walks of life were arriving at the Cathedral, from knights to merchants, butchers and shoemakers. The monks reported being overwhelmed with visitors who wanted to visit Becket’s tomb in the Cathedral crypt. Canterbury quickly became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Western Europe.

As well as visiting Becket’s tomb, Pilgrims visiting Canterbury could also buy small amounts of his watered-down blood. This was sold in small metal containers known as ‘ampulla’, which were sometimes decorated with images of Becket or his martyrdom. They were designed to be small and portable so that the blood relic could be easily brought to a sick person who couldn’t travel or taken home by a pilgrim.

In addition to ampulla, pilgrims could also buy small souvenirs, known as ‘pilgrim badges’. These lead badges contained scenes related to many different aspects of Becket’s life and martyrdom and would have been pinned or sewn onto pilgrim’s clothes. Much like today’s postcards, badges would have been bought and worn as a sign that you had visited a particular pilgrim site.